Overcoming “What If”

Battling the possibilities of everything that could have happened in the past is an everyday struggle many people experience. “What if I acted differently? Would my life be better than it is now?” Being held captive by hindsight can happen when we over-embellish memories. It can potentially remove you from the present moment. When relationships end, when job opportunities are lost, and when we miss valuable opportunities, battling with the possibilities of how the present could have been different can cause problems in current relationships. Being stuck in the past could be destructive to the “now.” What if, instead, we consider the present moment? What if we learned to accept our current circumstances? And how do we learn to move on? Staying stuck in “what if” is often caused by disappointment, unmet expectations, and the feeling that you missed out on something potentially life-changing. Realistically, most of the “what if’s” would not have a tremendous impact on our current circumstances. Learning to remove the tendency of lingering from our thought processes can help us enjoy the present and better understand ourselves. Acknowledging that we cannot change the past is a hard lesson for so many people.

So how do we surrender our “What If’s” and live an actualized life?

  1. Be honest with yourself and practice healthy self-talk exercises.
  2. Value each moment in the present. Let the moment stay alive while it is present. Preserve the “what if” as a memory, almost as if it were in a mental scrapbook.
  3. Look at each moment objectively. Have a trustworthy friend or partner who can help you view memories from different perspectives.
  4. Try not to let the idea of “perfect” possibilities and alternate outcomes contaminate the beauty of a memory. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation to reach. 
  5. Slow down. Take a second to reflect, breathe and actualize when you find yourself lingering on a missed opportunity.

When we think about it, the “what-ifs” are almost a desire for control over the way things should be. We need to accept that we don’t have absolute control over everything that happens in life. The mysteries and unanswered questions are essential to healthy personal growth. Accepting that we don’t have control helps us focus on the things that we can control. Sometimes, we need to embrace our fortunes instead of choosing to remain captive by the possibilities of what could have been if things had turned out differently. Eckhart Tolle explains that “You attract and manifest whatever corresponds to your inner state.” Lingering on the past reinforces a pessimistic lifestyle and attracts negativity. Therefore, maintaining a positive outlook, setting realistic expectations for yourself, and learning to be present can help achieve a satisfying future.  

How to Set Realistic Expectations

  1. Be mindful of what you can and cannot control in situations.
  2. Make a list of your limitations.
  3. Evaluate your values.
  4. Look for lessons learned and morals within memories.
  5. Surrender the idea of control and accept what “is” rather than what “could have been.”
  6. Speak to someone when you struggle to accept disappointing or unsatisfying outcomes.

Learning to let go of every missed opportunity is a genuinely liberating feeling that can remove so much stress and disappointment, which may be affecting your current circumstances. There is freedom in taking control of these thoughts. Allow yourself to move on and accept the now.  

Written by: Michael Giannino

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